Rafa Roundup: A long way to La Decima at Roland Garros

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The Spaniard capped a record-breaking two-week stretch, which saw him become the first player to win 10 titles at a tour-level event in Monte-Carlo and repeat the feat on his native clay of Barcelona. He has won 20 of 21 sets thus far on the European clay-court swing.

“I’m very satisfied. It’s been an emotional day for me. Winning a 10th title here is something difficult to describe. Playing in front of my crowd and my club and winning the 10th title here is something that’s impossible to even dream of. It’s very special and unique,” said Nadal. “I played my best match of the tournament this afternoon against probably the toughest opponent in the tournament, so I’m very happy.”

Toni Nadal: “… So you can understand that given what Roland-Garros represents to us Spaniards, winning 10 times in Paris would be… (he exhales, then spreads his arms out wide) enormous. … Yes. Because it would be the tenth. And also because every time Rafael wins Roland-Garros, we can then say already that he’s had a great season. … So yes, it’s true, we’re very confident at the moment. But maybe if Rafael loses in Madrid, we’ll be less confident. We’ll see! A lot of things can still happen by the time Roland-Garros comes around.”

… Nadal has to prove that he can beat Djokovic again before he can be considered the favorite. He’s lost his last seven matches to the Serb, including three on clay, dating back to Roland Garros in 2014. In those seven matches, Nadal has been unable to win a set.

Last year Rafa said his only regret was that, just at the moment when he was playing his best, during the clay swing, he hurt his wrist. Like last year, he has started that swing with wins in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. In 2016, Nadal finally met Djokovic in the semifinals in Rome, and he lost a classic. I could go for another showdown like that in the next couple of weeks.

Nadal, who was just 15 years old at the time, had only played three matches going into his first ATP event, one at the Futures level and two at the Challenger level, and he was ranked a lowly No.762.

But that first ATP event being held on home soil in Mallorca may have given him the boost he needed, as he beat No.81-ranked Ramon Delgado in straight sets in his first ever ATP-level match, 6-4 6-4.

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AUDIO: Alex Corretja: ‘Nadal favourite for French Open’ | BBC

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Rafa Roundup: Here’s why Rafael Nadal is playing doubles with Bernard Tomic in Indian Wells

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“If the top players are not playing very often, then you are making something not good – you need to change. But the ITF always thinks on the small picture,” Nadal added.

He called the competition “a beautiful competition, a very emotional competition”. He also proposed a massive lengthening of the format, producing a winner only every three years.

“I don’t mean one-year Davis Cup, one year no Davis Cup. I mean, for example, two ties per year. That will be something reasonable and players will be very motivated to play Davis Cup.”

“I was a little bit sick for two days, so I couldn’t practise. I started to practise yesterday for the first time. Today, I practised again and I have doubles. It is obvious that when you get sick you lose a little bit of the power for a couple of days. So I hope to recover myself well and feel ready to compete at the highest level possible.”

… “I play doubles for fun and to practise too,” Nadal added. “I was supposed to play with Bernard in Brisbane. That made sense, because it’s his house and for me it was something that I liked. But then I said to him that I could not play there. I said if we can change Brisbane for Indian Wells, will be great for me. That’s it.”

“Toni is completely free like he has always been, to take his own decisions and to choose what makes him happiest,” Nadal told the media in Acapulco. “I am comfortable with what he decides is best for him.

“I feel better when people who I love are happy and if it makes him happy, for me it’s OK. Before being my coach, Toni is my uncle. He has been with me for a lifetime and the relationship with him has been a little bit more special than the one I have with my other uncles because I have lived everyday with him and I am very grateful to him for all the things he did for me.”

“Obviously yes, for sure, everyone was surprised. But it’s not easy travelling on the tour for so many years,” said Murray in Dubai.

“I know he hates flying, I’ve been on a couple of planes with him and I know he doesn’t enjoy the travelling. Rafa is 31 this year and he was on the tour since he was 16, so it’s been 15 years of travelling on the tour and a lot of time before that as well.

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Rafa Roundup: Fans surprised, excited by Rafa’s choice of doubles partner

Fiona Hamilton/Tennis Australia
Fiona Hamilton/Tennis Australia

The official acceptance list for the Indian Wells doubles draw was finalised on Monday, and an unusual pairing caught everyone’s eye.

Rafael Nadal and Bernard Tomic will team up for the first time and have used their singles rankings to gain entry into the field.

Both Nadal and Tomic have doubles rankings outside the top 100, but their ability to use their singles rankings – No.6 for Nadal and No.31 for Tomic – put them ninth-highest on the entry list with a combined ranking of 37.

“It did surprise me a bit,” Ferrer said. “I am pretty sure he will have his own thoughts and there is still a long way to go this year. Maybe what he thinks now will change at the end of the season. It would be sad not to have Toni on the circuit.”

… “It makes me so happy seeing Roger and Rafa back at their best level,” he said. “They give a lot to this sport and as a fan of tennis, I like to watch them. Besides, Rafa is a great mate and I have played almost all my career alongside him and Roger. So the longer they go, much better.”

On his path to becoming one of the greatest to ever play the game, Rafael Nadal has had his uncle and coach, Toni Nadal, there with him every step of the way.

… It’s impossible to predict what will happen next in Nadal’s career, but there’s still a long season with Uncle Toni left to go, and no one can count him out on the Parisian clay.

Peter Fleming: “Rafa is a creature of habit – he needs structure – and I do think that he was caught off guard when Toni said ‘I’m not doing this next year’. I think Rafa probably took a little time to get accustomed to it but it’s an opportunity for growth.

“Carlos Moya, who grew up in Mallorca, and was Rafa’s idol growing up as a kid is now in the team as his coach and Francisco Roig has been there for many years on a part-time basis.

“It’s not like Toni’s job is really crucial to the team – I think it will be fine.”

Rafael Nadal covers the latest issue of Gentleman Ecuador
Rafael Nadal covers the latest issue of Gentleman Ecuador

The Swiss tennis great made the confession at the unveiling of the new tournament scheduled for Prague in September which will pit a Bjorn Borg-captained European team against John McEnroe’s rest of the world.

Federer, who beat Nadal in an epic five-set Australian Open final last month, admitted on Monday: “I’ve always wanted to play with Rafa… just because our rivalry has been so special.

Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are still the top two men’s players in the world, respectively, and Roger Federer won his 18th Grand Slam at the Australian Open last month. But none of those players, in Boris Becker’s mind, are the favorites to win the French Open. Rafael Nadal is the man to beat in Roland Garros.

 

Rafa Roundup: Here’s What Uncle Toni Said About Coaching Relationship With Rafa

Rafael Nadal of Spain looks on in his second round match against Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus on day four of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 19, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Jan. 18, 2017 - Source: Scott Barbour/Getty Images AsiaPac)
Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Toni said that he finally discussed his plans with Rafael this week and that Rafael was initially surprised, in part because of how well things had gone in Australia.

“He was thinking about the short term, and the short term looked very good,” Toni said. “But it was not like I was stepping down immediately. If I had stopped with Rafa overnight, that clearly would have been big news, but I really didn’t think me deciding to focus on the academy next year would be big news.”

That, judging from the Spanish headlines, was a miscalculation.

“My error,” said Toni, who said he should have spoken to Rafael directly before saying anything publicly. “If I thought it was big news, I would not have said it there in Budapest in that setting.”

“Now I am really excited to be in the academy. I step down, but [Rafael] is in good hands. Now I am going to make the most of this 2017. It has been a very long journey, loads of seasons. If instead of my nephew, I had coached somebody else, I would have stepped down much earlier.”

Toni said he would always be ready to give a hand when needed, even though Carlos Moyà and Francis Roig will now take the reins.

“Let’s imagine a scenario where Moyà is not available in 2018 for a few tournaments. And my nephew asks me to help him,” Toni said. “I’ll do it for sure and I’ll enjoy it. My intention is to work at the academy and if they need me, I’ll be there.”

Q. Which of these players has taught you the most with regard to their work ethic?
Marc Lopez: Rafa, once again. By spending time with him on a daily basis, I’ve been able to learn about his routine, how professional he is, and everything he’s done for tennis. He lives for tennis, he trains obsessively and is very ambitious… And he’s very humble. I’ve known him since he was 14 or 15 and I’ve been to Mallorca to train with him on several occasions. He tries to surpass himself every day and that’s how he’s achieved all that he’s achieved – and I’m sure that he’s not finished yet. I have a lot of respect for the player and man that he is. He’s a very special player, different from the others. And, since he’s also a good friend, that further strengthens our bond on the court.

Given where Nadal and Federer were/are in their careers, given the arc of their rivalry, given this joint stand against the Murray/Djokovic duopoly, given their ages, given the unlikely sways of the match (As a colleague asked me days later, seeking confirmation: “Wait, Federer came back against Nadal? Isn’t it always vice versa?”…… maybe we just agree that they were both magical, historical moments for tennis. We are in debt to both players and the rivalry they built. And that one man won the first match and the other man won the second leaves us with a nice bit of symmetry.

Rafa Roundup: Uncle Toni will not travel with Rafa on the tour next season

Spain's Rafael Nadal reacts with his coaches Toni Nadal (L) and former player Carlos Moya during a training session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato
Spain’s Rafael Nadal reacts with his coaches Toni Nadal (L) and former player Carlos Moya during a training session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato

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“Rafael recovered his game,” Toni Nadal told L’Equipe in an interview in French. “His tournament was good, his attitude was good and his matches were not bad against [Grigor] Dimitrov, [Gael] Monfils and [Milos] Raonic.

… “It must not be forgotten that arriving at Roland Garros [in 2016], Rafa had excellent sensations,” said Toni Nadal, who is usually sparing in his positive assessments of his nephew’s play. “There was just this physical issue … For the first time in a long while, Rafael has no physical problems to manage … Since he has been playing with no pain, he has regained a high level.”

On the evidence we saw in Australia, Nadal could reclaim his “King of Clay” title this spring. But he will have to remain healthy, and he will have to deal successfully with the same kind of pressure that caused him to implode in 2015. Remember, Nadal reached the quarterfinals before losing to Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals at Brisbane before the first major of the year. He’s off to a great start, but it’s just start.

Federer and Nadal are largely exempt from the commitment demands of the ATP World Tour. But they must play if they want to continue making headway in the rankings. Right now, both are entered in one warm-up event followed by the two upcoming U.S. hard court Masters 1000s.

Rafael Nadal to win Roland Garros — Predictions the Spaniard would fail to win the one major he has virtually owned for more than a decade rang true in 2015 and 2016. But a surprise run to the Australian Open final to start this season has reinvigorated belief the 30-year-old is well and truly back in the mix and in pole position to recapture the Coupe de Mousquetaires. The Raging Bull’s biggest threats on the terre battue at Roland Garros will not come in the form of defending champion Novak Djokovic or world No.1 Andy Murray, but instead from his own rickety body.

“Esta es mi última temporada con Rafa. Desde el próximo año ya no seguiré a Rafa y me dedicaré exclusivamente a nuestra academia de Manacor. Quiero ocuparme de la formación de jóvenes talentos, que es el momento más delicado”, afirmó Toni Nadal en declaraciones publicadas hoy por la página web “Il Tennis Italiano”.

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PHOTOS: Rafael Nadal practices under the watchful eyes of coaches Uncle Toni and Carlos Moya

A few photos from Rafael Nadal’s Sunday practice.

 

Rafa Roundup: This is not the end!

Rafael Nadal King of Clay French Open Roland Garros

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“We took the risks yesterday. To have won the tournament I would have had to play five more matches and the doctor told me that was 100 per cent impossible.

Nadal, wearing a wrist brace, said the injury first flared up during his quarter-final match in Madrid against Joao Sousa earlier this month, after which he underwent treatment in Barcelona before heading to Rome, where he lost in the quarter-finals to Novak Djokovic.

Having played on anti-inflammatories in Italy, Nadal said the pain began to return prior to his departure for Paris. “When I arrived here, every day is worse,” Nadal said. “I cannot play with my forehand. That’s the real thing.”

By withdrawing from Roland-Garros, Nadal hopes to avoid surgery to his wrist.

For now, the French Open and the popular Spaniard’s millions of admirers will hope he has another stab at the record next year. He certainly believes he will.

Now is a tough moment, but is not the end. I feel myself with the right motivation and the right energy to be back in Roland Garros the next couple of years, and I really hope to keep having my chances in the future.”

Nadal’s uncle and coach Toni lamented the unfortunate timing of the injury but is hoping his charge will be ready to compete again soon.

“It’s part of the sport. But yes, this setback has come at the worst moment,” said Toni.

“It’s a pity because Rafael was starting to get back to a good level, feeling competitive and this is the most important tournament of the year for us. Now, the most important thing is for him to recuperate completely and when he’s back, we can get to where we are right now.”

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Rafa’s success at Roland-Garros is often compared to that of Bjorn Borg’s. The nine-time champion reflects on his inspiration, motivation, and love of the red clay.

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